I get really excited about heading to my local farmer’s market pretty much all the time, however the experience is all the more exciting in the midst of summer, when local produce is varied and extremely plentiful. Some crops are also very fleeting – I spent time this week planning out a delicious asparagus and tarragon risotto recipe, only to show up at the market and discover that I had missed this delicious crop by a week. So perhaps the moral is, get when the getting is good, as you never know when your last asparagus crop will be available? This is a bit of a scarcity mindset, but it does make you appreciate what you have, when you have it.
Our family has made many shifts and changes over the past 10 years, in an attempt to reduce our footprint on the planet. One of those shifts has been our decision to try and eat what is locally and seasonally available, as much as we possibly can. The farmer’s market is a wonderful way to do just that, and a stop at the Halifax Brewery and the Halifax Seaport Markets has become a regular part of our weekend grocery shopping routine. We moved to Halifax last August and are so thrilled to have not just one, but two amazing markets within walking distance to us downtown. Did I mention that we are currently car-free? I am willing to use local transit to venture farther afield, but it’s all the better when the things I am looking for are within walking distance.
So why shop local anyway? Shopping local and in season helps reduce the carbon footprint involved in shipping vegetables from far away places, and helps to support local farms in your community. I stopped at a grocery store after my asparagus disappointment, and was slightly tempted by a table full of lovely green stalks until I read the label that indicated it was shipped from Mexico. It may have a lengthier growing season in Mexico, given the higher annual temperatures, but I was happy to move on to other, equally delicious and readily available at the market ingredients.
While I was researching seasonal availability to prepare this article, I came across a couple of excellent resources. One contains a general description of locally available produce, mapped out by season (with a handy dandy printable sheet) put out by Select Nova Scotia. The second page I found contains a calendar depicting specific produce availability by month, care of Pick Your Own. I plan to use these guides to help me map out which item I would like to feature each week, so as to avoid future asparagus disappointment. Although according to the map we were lucky to have asparagus in July period!
Which brings me to another point, not all of the stalls at your local market will be local or spray free (two important considerations, in my books). This is why it is incredibly important to read signs and talk to the people growing your food. So what is the difference between organic and spray free? Organic food requires certification, and often times farms are not in a position to acquire this certification, but some (if not all) of their products are spray free. So it helps to read signs and ask. I love organic produce and try to buy it as often as I can, but we are also on a budget, which gets in the way of these intentions sometimes.
I like to follow the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which is updated every year. I have talked to a few people who are not convinced about organic food, they typically insist that nothing can be truly organic as winds can blow pesticides across an organic field from a conventional farm at any time, which means those items are now contaminated. While this is true, I do feel that organic and spray free are still an important consideration, as the odd bit of trace contamination is going to have a lot less of an impact than regular spraying. This applies to us as humans also, the chemical load in our bodies is going to be a lot less if we ingest and apply chemical free produce and products on a regular basis. I am a reforming type “A” and perfectionist, but I have come to realize there is no such thing as perfect, and it’s important to do the best you can.
Which brings me to the whole point (and title) of this article. Superfoods have gotten a lot of hype over the past decade, with lots of information hitting the world wide web about the benefits of maca, goji berries and other such gems. I have been guilty of this myself, and am in the process of modifying the recipes on my blog, to make them less superfood dependent. While I am not disagreeing that these foods are potent and powerful, I plan to be more selective in my use as these superfoods are expensive and need to travel a long way to get to me. This post emerges out of my desire to see what kind of nutrient dense superfoods are available locally and seasonally where I am living now. As I mentioned above, shopping locally and in season means that not only am I reducing my carbon footprint, but the food I am eating is also super fresh.
So now that you know the why behind this post, let’s get down to the what. I was really inspired by some gorgeous produce items at the market yesterday, as a result I have not one but two recipes to share this week. The first of these is a quick and simple braised Harukei Turnip dish. I have fallen head over heels for these delicious turnips, buying them whenever they crop up at the market and adding them to pretty much everything I can think of (soups and noodle bowls, stir fries etc.) This recipe was inspired by a delicious and simple take on these delicious turnips from Terry Walter’s Eat Clean, Live Well. If you haven’t discovered Terry Walter’s cookbooks yet, definitely look for them at your local bookstore. Her recipes are whole foods based, separated into seasons. I love this approach as I often bring home produce from the farmer’s market and find wonderful seasonal inspiration care of her recipes. I usually map out my meal plan for the week ahead of my market trips, however I like to leave a bit of wiggle room for seasonal produce I might not have known about prior to that week’s visit.
So what is so special about Harukei turnips? Harukei turnips, also known as spring turnips or Japanese turnips, are small and white, with long green stems. They have a sweet and mild flavour profile, as compared to their larger fall counterparts, and I find when they are braised or cooked in soups they absolutely melt in your mouth. I love the taste and texture so much that I typically cook them, although I have sampled a few slices raw and they would be lovely thinly sliced or shredded and added to a salad. Turnips are a wonderful, antioxidant rich source of vitamin c, which functions as an immune booster. A full nutrient low down is available on Dr Mercola’s site.
Turnip greens are very high in vitamins K, C, A and folate, among other nutrients, making them an excellent green to include in your diet. I love referencing The World’s Healthiest Foods website while researching vegetables, they have a very informative profile on Turnip Greens. The recipe below includes both the turnips themselves and turnip greens, which are added in the last five minutes of cooking to maximize their health benefits. I typically do this with all of my greens, either saute them for no more than five minutes, or add them during the last five minutes of cooking a soup or stew. You want them to be bright green and vibrant, not dull and muted, which tends to happen when greens are overcooked. I like to finely chop my greens and then wash them by placing them in a colander submerged in water. I agitate the greens with my fingers, then rinse and repeat until the water is free of dirt.
Another local and seasonal superfood I am adding to this week’s recipe is the mighty garlic scape. I will be profiling the nutritional benefits of this lovely green in tomorrow’s recipe post, but I do want to mention that they are widely available this time of year and are absolutely delicious! I adore garlic and will consume it in all forms, but I find the scapes are a bit sweeter and less sharp in flavour than your typical clove of garlic. Much like the turnips I profiled above, the spring version of garlic is a lighter and sweeter take on its heavier winter counterpart.
Without further ado, here is my recipe. This dish works well as a side, or quick and easy snack:
Harukei Turnips with Garlic Scapes and Lemon
1 bunch Harukei turnips, including greens
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic scapes
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1/3 cup water
fresh lemon juice to taste (I used 1.5 tbsp as I really love lemon!)
Slice ends off your turnips, and scrub them to remove dirt. Cut the turnips into equal size chunks and set aside. Thinly slice your greens and wash (I have some tips on this in the text above). Drain and set aside. Thinly slice your garlic scapes.
Heat a skillet or chef’s pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic scapes, and saute for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add turnips and sea salt, sauteing to coat in olive oil and garlic scapes. Add water and cover with a lid. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until most of the water is evapourated and turnips are fork tender. Add greens and saute for an additional five minutes, or until they are soft and bright in colour. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve.